Everything You Need to Know About Cooking Scallops

By: Kimberly Holland

Fresh scallops may feel like a decadent dinner, but they're among the easiest seafood dishes you can make at home. Find out how to cook scallops three different ways.

Pictured Recipe: Brown Butter Seared Scallops

Scallops feel like a decadent dinner you only order at a restaurant. But if you aren't already making scallops at home, it's time to start. You won't believe how easy it is to get perfectly crisp on the outside, tender on the inside scallops. This protein-pack seafood is a lot easier to prepare than other shellfish. They usually come out of the shell, ready to cook so you don't have to deal with shells to clean or peel, plus they cook so quickly—just 3 to 5 minutes per side and you have a healthy, delicious dinner on the table in no time.

Try These: Healthy Scallop Recipes

What Are Scallops?

Creamy Scallop & Pea Fettuccine

Pictured Recipe: Creamy Scallop & Pea Fettuccine

Scallops are shellfish with an edible adductor muscle. These round, tender muscles are slightly sweet with a delicate and briny saltiness. They turn tender and buttery when prepared and cooked properly.

Two types of scallops are sold at grocery stores and seafood market: bay scallops and sea scallops.

Bay scallops are found in shallow waters, bays and estuaries along the East Coast. Bay scallops are very small, most measuring around one-half inch. They're very tender and delicate, too. Because they're so small and cook quickly, bay scallops are used in quick sautés, broiling and gentle poaching.

Sea scallops are found in deep, cold ocean waters around the world. They may be dredged up with crawlers or nets, which can damage the ocean floor. However, diver scallops are sea scallops that have been harvested by scuba divers. These are the most sustainable sea scallop option, but they can carry a higher price tag. Sea scallops are larger; some may be as big as two inches in diameter. They're more chewy than bay scallops, but they are still tender and sweet.

Related: Healthy Shellfish Recipes

How to Cook Scallops

Pan-Seared Scallops with Tomato, Olives, and Fresh Basil

Pictured Recipe: Pan-Seared Scallops with Tomato, Olives, and Fresh Basil

Scallops are best prepared and cooked simply. Their sweet flavor is a stand-out with simple preparation. Strong seasoning mixes and marinades may overwhelm the delicate flavor. Be sure to not overcook scallops, as they'll turn chewy and tough. These cooking techniques will help you get it right every time.

Most recipes will specify if you should use bay scallops or sea scallops. If it doesn't say, look for a photo. If you can't find a photo, read the recipe's instructions. For cook times that total more than five minutes, sea scallops are your best bet.

To prepare scallops for cooking, do the following:

  1. Locate the side muscle on each scallop. The side muscle is a chewy, tough piece of fibrous tissue found on one side of the scallop. This is what once held the scallop to the shell.
  2. Pinch the piece of muscle between your thumb and forefinger. Gently tug until the muscle pulls away.
  3. Pat dry each scallop to remove moisture on the surface of the meat.
  4. Season with salt, pepper or your preferred seasoning mix.

How to Sear Scallops

Coconut Squash Soup with Seared Scallops

Pictured Recipe: Coconut Squash Soup with Seared Scallops

Cooking scallops in a skillet is a fast and simple way to get perfectly-seared scallops. The sear creates a crispy, flavor-packed golden crust. The best way to sear scallops is to make sure the pan is hot. The instant sear from the hot pan helps create the crust and prevent soggy scallops.

  1. Preheat oil in a skillet on medium-high heat.
  2. When the oil glistens, place a single layer of scallops in the pan, one inch apart. If the scallop doesn't sizzle on contact, wait another minute before you add a second scallop. Don't crowd the pan; scallops will steam and not form a crisp crust if the pan is too full.
  3. Let each scallop cook 2 to 3 minutes, then carefully flip. Cook another 2 to 3 minutes or until opaque throughout. Serve immediately.

How to Broil Scallops

Prosciutto-Wrapped Scallops with Spinach

Pictured Recipe: Prosciutto-Wrapped Scallops with Spinach

Broiling is great for bay scallops because of their quick-cooking nature, but you can also broil a large amount of sea scallops all at once with this method.

  1. Turn your broiler to high, and coat a shallow baking dish with olive oil.
  2. Place scallops in a single layer in the baking dish, being sure to leave space between each piece. Brush with oil or butter.
  3. Broil 6 to 8 minutes or until golden brown and opaque throughout. For large scallops, you may need to flip half-way through the cook time to get a golden sear. Serve immediately.

When the scallops come out of the oven, you can add more seasoning or brush with another coat of butter before serving. Browned butter is an excellent finishing ingredient for scallops.

How to Grill Scallops

Skewered Scallops with Honey-Grapefruit Drizzle

Pictured Recipe: Skewered Scallops with Honey-Grapefruit Drizzle

The subtle char flavor of grilling pairs well with a scallop's sweetness and rich, butter texture. Because scallops can overcook quickly, skewer them after you prepare and dry them. Skewered scallops are easy to get on the grill and even easier to get off quickly, in order to prevent overcooking.

  1. Heat a grill to medium-high heat.
  2. Brush both sides of the scallops with olive oil, and season as you desire.
  3. Place scallop skewers directly onto a hot grill. Cook 3 to 4 minutes covered, then flip the skewers. Cook another 3 to 4 minutes, uncovered, or until opaque throughout. Serve immediately.

Related: 5 Easy Tips for Grilling Fish Perfectly

How to Serve Scallops

Scallops with Radicchio-Apple Slaw

Pictured Recipe: Scallops with Radicchio-Apple Slaw

Scallops are extremely versatile. They can be used in soups, salads, pastas, stir-fries and more.

For a simple but classic presentation, sear scallops in butter. Serve over pasta with olive oil, a squeeze of lemon and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.

You can also serve them on a pillow of pureed cauliflower or root vegetables. The creamy side is a wonderful partner to the chewy but buttery scallop.

For a more traditional take, serve seared scallops alongside rice and a salad.

Scallops cook quickly, so save them for last. Ready every other elements of your dish before you cook your scallops. As soon as the scallops are done, the dish should be served to get the best flavor and texture from the special seafood choice.

How to Buy Scallops

Summer Corn & Scallop Pasta

Pictured Recipe: Summer Corn & Scallop Pasta

Unlike mussels, oysters and clams, scallops die quickly after being harvested. That means most scallops are shucked and frozen before they ever get to your grocery store. Previously-frozen scallops should not be mushy or dry. Bay scallops are typically light pink or light orange; sea scallops are a creamy off-white or light pink hue.

If you find fresh, live scallops, be sure to give them a tap test before purchasing: Gently tap the shell. A healthy scallop will shut when you tap it. Fresh scallops should also smell like the ocean—a delicate saltiness; a strong fishy smell is a sign of age.

Lastly, look for dry-packed scallops. Many shucked and frozen scallops are soaked in a phosphate solution to preserve texture and flavor. This solution may add a soapy flavor to the scallop, and it increases the amount of water the scallop may hold. That can make the scallops turn soggy in the pan. Dry-packed scallops, however, do not use this solution. They're more likely to get a perfect sear and won't have the unusual soapy flavor.

Read More: Clean Eating Buyer's Guide to Seafood

A Note on Scallops Nutrition

Golden Beet, Green Bean & Fennel Salad with Scallops

Pictured Recipe: Golden Beet, Green Bean & Fennel Salad with Scallops

Scallops are a low-calorie, low-fat and high-protein seafood. A typical three-ounce serving of scallops has less than 100 calories. It also has about one gram of fat and 20 grams of satisfying protein.

Scallops are an excellent source of minerals, such as selenium, zinc and copper. As with other types of seafood, scallops also serve up heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids—more than 300 milligrams is in one serving of scallops.

Try These: Recipes Rich in Omega-3s and Folate

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